2022 National Security Strategy Released with Strong Emphasis on Arctic Region

The National Security Strategy is a report mandated by Section 603 of the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 (Public Law 99-433). The report is due every four years, but in reality the deadline is treated in a somewhat elastic manner. Previous reports were released in 1987-88, 1990-91, 1993-2000, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2015, and 2017.

President Biden released an interim guidance document in 2021, and on October 12 he released his 2022 National Security Strategy – brief fact sheet here – which is already receiving mixed reviews. It should be noted that mixed reviews are essentially all it ever gets, and about the best you can hope for in today’s political environment.

Within its forty-eight pages the Arctic gets an honorable mention in a section titled, “Maintain a Peaceful Arctic,” that reads in its entirety:

The United States seeks an Arctic region that is peaceful, stable, prosperous, and cooperative. Climate change is making the Arctic more accessible than ever, threatening Arctic communities and vital ecosystems, creating new potential economic opportunities. and intensifying competition to shape the region’s future. Russia has invested significantly in its presence in the Arctic over the last decade, modernizing its military infrastructure and increasing the pace of exercises and training operations. Its aggressive behavior has raised geopolitical tensions in the Arctic, creating new risks of unintended conflict and hindering cooperation. The PRC has also sought to increase its influence in the Arctic by rapidly increased its Arctic investments, pursuing new scientific activities, and using these scientific engagements to conduct dual-use research with intelligence or military applications.

We will uphold U.S. security in the region by improving our maritime domain awareness, communications, disaster response capabilities, and icebreaking capacity to prepare for increased international activity in the region. We will exercise U.S. Government presence in the region as NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY 45 required, while reducing risk and preventing unnecessary escalation. Arctic nations have the primary responsibility for addressing regional challenges, and we will deepen our cooperation with our Arctic allies and partners and work with them to sustain the Arctic Council and other Arctic institutions despite the challenges to Arctic cooperation posed by Russia’s war in Ukraine. We will continue to protect freedom of navigation and determine the U.S. extended continental shelf in accordance with international rules. We must build resilience to and mitigate climate change in the region, including through agreements to reduce emissions and more cross-Arctic research collaboration. As economic activity in the Arctic increases, we will invest in infrastructure, improve livelihoods, and encourage responsible private sector investment by the United States, our allies, and our partners, including in critical minerals, and improve investment screening for national security purposes. Across these efforts, we will uphold our commitment to honor Tribal sovereignty and self-governance through regular, meaningful, and robust consultation and collaboration with Alaska Native communities.

This is just a week on the heels of the National Strategy for the Arctic and the inclusion of this relatively lengthy reference to the Arctic marks a major shift in the treatment of this region. Previous National Security Strategies have made scant reference to the Arctic – just a single word in the 2017 edition, for example, and nothing at all in last year’s interim guidance. This escalation of Arctic importance is not a complete surprise, given the acceleration of Arctic policy announcements in just the past year.